2014 BMW i3 Long-Term Road Test: Introduction
January 08, 2015
What Did We Get?
Since the mid-1970s, BMW has prided itself on being the creator of "the ultimate driving machine," and more often than not, it has lived up to that claim. With the creation of the new 2014 i3 and i8, BMW is attempting to stamp its familiar slogan onto a class of cars that aren't typically known as dynamic driving machines: hybrids and electric vehicles.
While the i8 sports car is unquestionably the attention-grabber with its concept car styling, it starts at a hefty $136,650. The fully electric i3 city car, with a base MSRP of $42,300, is a vehicle for those who want to live on the cutting edge of automotive efficiency and technology at a more accessible price.
Powered by an electric motor that sends 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, the i3 is one of the most powerful electric vehicles on the market (a recently tested i3 ran from zero to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds). A 647cc two-cylinder range-extending gasoline engine is an optional addition to the electric motor and increases the maximum range of the i3 from an EPA-estimated 81 miles to 150.
But the i3 is more than just an advanced powertrain. The cabin is unlike that of any other BMW, with recycled and renewable raw materials covering the dashboard and doors. Tall windows give the interior an airy feel, and backseat passengers are afforded easy ingress and egress thanks to rear-hinged rear doors.
The i3 is a car that we loved when we tested one on a short-term basis, so we broke out our pocketbook and went shopping for one of our own.
What Options Does It Have?
While the i3 starts at $42,300, we wanted one with the range extender, which ups the cost to $46,150. We ordered ours dressed in Capparis White and then added options.
Instead of trim levels, the i3 offers three "worlds." We wanted the open-pore eucalyptus wood trim and satellite radio, so we stepped up from the Mega World i3 to the midlevel Giga World at $47,850. However, the only interior color available on Giga is gray, and we knew dirt would start to show as the year went on. So we decided to take one more step up to Tera World, which adds dark brown full-leather seats with matching leather trim on the dash. That brought the price of our i3 to $48,850.
We also added both available option packages. The Parking Assistant package bundles sonar parking sensors, a rearview camera and fully automated parking for $1,000. The Technology + Driving Assistant package ($2,500) combines adaptive cruise control, BMW apps and a navigation system with traffic info. From there, we opted for the 20-inch sport wheels with staggered tires ($1,300), heated front seats ($350) and 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system ($800).
As equipped, our 2014 BMW i3 carries an MSRP of $54,800. After some negotiation, we purchased our newest EV, and our first carbon-bodied long termer, for $49,999.
Why We Bought It
This is a huge bet by BMW. Electric cars are not its specialty, but the company thinks there's a place for them in its lineup. The i3 is one of the few cars on the market to have been designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle. Most other EVs, such as the Chevrolet Spark EV and Ford Focus Electric, are existing vehicles with a battery pack shoehorned in wherever it will fit. Does it make a difference? We'll see.
It's also the only car at its price point with body panels made from ultra-lightweight carbon fiber. That's good for efficiency, but repairs could be expensive if we ever have a mishap.
Then there's the issue of the i3's range extender setup. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt with its 9.3-gallon gas tank, the i3 can only carry 1.9 gallons of fuel. That means when we run out of electric power, we only have another 70 miles or so of range left. Long road trips are out of the question, but does it matter for a car like this?
We aim to put 20,000 miles on all our long-term cars over the course of a year, so our i3 has a tough goal to meet. The only other EV to accomplish that feat was our 2013 Tesla Model S. Will the range extender help the i3 achieve that goal, or will the final odometer look more like that of our 2011 Chevrolet Volt, which only managed 15,063 miles?
We have one year to find out the answer to these questions and more. Follow along on the Long-Term Road Test page for updates.
Current odometer: 780 miles
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.